You might know Alexander Vlahos as the adult Mordred in Merlin, or as Philippe, Duke of Orléans in Versailles, but his latest role is quite different – stepping behind the camera, he’s made his directorial debut with the short film Lola, which is already attracting strong early buzz.
The story of a young woman, Ruby (Anna Brewster), as she begins to uncover aspects of her long term boyfriend Paul’s life, Lola examines trust within a relationship, and how the harbouring of secrets can often be more damage than the secret itself.
Lewis Reeves (Unforgotten) plays Paul and also wrote the film, initially asking his old drama school colleague Vlahos to give some notes on his script before eventually earmarking him to direct. “I sat down with him for a coffee to give him the last notes, and he went, ‘Oh, you’re directing this by the way.'” Vlahos tells RadioTimes.com.
“But I think he sort of secretly knew that I really wanted to get into that side of the business, and not just be an actor, and to try my hand at something else.
“It didn’t scare me. It sounded very right.”
Originally “very, very dialogue-heavy”, the script for Lola was stripped back until it became the almost entirely dialogue-free final product. “There’s something incredibly powerful about casting brilliant actors and telling them that they can’t talk, that they can’t express via dialogue what they want to say,” Vlahos suggests.
“If you’re in, say, a steady relationship, and you do love each other but for some reason you’re struggling to put those struggles into words – I thought by stripping the dialogue away, it made the whole film more powerful, and it actually allows the audience to focus on the faces, and the mood of the thing.”
But finessing the script was, of course, only the first hurdle – getting Lola made was, Vlahos insists, “incredibly difficult”, though a huge boost came in the form of a campaign he and Reeves launched on the fundraising site Indiegogo, which brought in over £14,000.
“For us, it was the perfect opportunity, because it meant we weren’t doing it for a studio. We weren’t doing it for a specific person who wanted certain things from the script so that they could get their money back or what have you. It felt very, very independent.”
Still, Vlahos says he was taken aback to the strength of the response to the Lola campaign. “I’ve known for a very long time that the people that follow me and my career are the most supportive people — you know, I’ve been very lucky to have found myself in two very successful shows that have garnered a fandom…
“Merlin was always going to be fandom-based, because I came into the show quite late, but I never expected Versailles fans to grab onto the show and support me and all the other cast in such a way. So yeah, it was incredibly overwhelming.”
Stepping off the lavish set of Versailles and into Lola’s more intimate set-up was an enjoyable and freeing experience, Vlahos says. “I feel like Versailles – especially on something like Versailles, and even Merlin – they’re both such big juggernauts, the scale is so big.
“Even if you’re a lead, like I was, you’re still a small cog in this huge machine. On Lola, it felt like the complete opposite. We didn’t spend a lot of time waiting for lighting. There wasn’t 150 extras in corsets that you’re waiting to bring in to add to the scene. Those three days on Lola were the happiest I’ve ever been, really, because it got to the crux of the matter.”
Vlahos was already familiar with both of his leads – as well as having an established relationship with Reeves, he’d worked with Brewster on Versailles and was also living with the actress at the time the film was made – but says that he overcame initial anxieties about being ‘taken seriously’ as a first-time director.
“I think I put a lot of pressure on myself. They were very trusting with me, but I think, especially on day one, I was cautious, actually – I was cautious and fearful about whether they were going to listen to me, because they were friends.
“But all of that was my own personal anxiety because everyone was very willing and committed and accepting. It was all in my head.”
Though to speak too much to Lola’s plot would ruin the experience of watching the film, its key message is one of acceptance. “I hope the film brings to life that if you are a minority voice in this world that you’re not alone, and that there are people out there that are loving and accepting, and that hope is still a big part of what we have here in the United Kingdom, even though in this current political climate you might not feel like you are accepted,” Vlahos says.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why Lola will work for a very long time. I feel it might be quite universal.”
Lola was actually filmed in 2018, with Vlahos having since completed his second shot and planning to direct a third this summer. But while his career as a filmmaker may be flourishing, he has no immediate plans to give up performing.
“I never want to say no to acting, because it’s part of my nature, it’s part of my fabric. I’m managing to find the time to scratch my directing itch in between projects.
“As long as I’m creating art, and it means something to people in some capacity, then I think I’ll be a happy man. That’s the crux of it. I just want to be able to put smiles on people’s faces. Whether that’s behind the camera or in front of the camera – as long as I can continue to do that, then I think I’ll be alright!”